Can Giving Math a Real-World Application Improve Scores?

How do you answer the math student’s favorite question: When are we ever going to use this?

Mind/Shift writer Audrey Watters points to New York Times op-ed writers Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford who say if we want better scores and want students to be more interested, make math more applicable to the student’s life. Garfunkel and Mumford say it’s a fact that different careers need different math skills, and that our education systems should be adjusted to value this.

The writers make the point that mathematicians, physicists, and engineers might need to know what to do with “complex numbers” and a “group of transformations,” but most of the workforce will benefit from “studying how mortgages are priced, how computers are programmed, and how the statistical results of a medical trial are to be understood.”

This new math would still “expose students to the abstract tools of math” but with a real-life application that gives math a context to their everyday life, future, and wellness of our economy. Students would learn “quantitative literacy” that allows them to make connections in life (they give the example of being confronted with a medical test result and deciding if they should undergo more procedures) and “mathematical modeling” that gives people the tools to make the connection between everyday things and math (they give the example whether you should buy or lease a new car).

Whether or not the math curriculum evolves to include teaching students the finance skills they need to be smart consumers, students need to learn these skills somewhere in their education. LifeBound’s new book Dollars & Sense: How to Be Smart About Money teaches students to start thinking about financial issues like budgeting, investing, and staying out of debt before it becomes a problem. This book can be taught in the classroom or used for independent study. To learn more, visit our new website at

Do you think giving math a real-world application could improve students’ math scores? Do you think math with a real-world application is more valuable for a students’ future than the abstract math taught in today’s classroom? Share your perspective in the comment box below.


“How to Fix Our Math Education” by Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford. 24 August 2011. New York Times. Accessed on 12 September 2011.<>

“Is Math Education Too Abstract?” by Audrey Watters. 12 September 2011. Mind/Shift. Accessed on 12 September 2011. <>


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